Pro-active Censorship by Instagram

Tl;dr: Instagram is actively pulling down fundraiser requests, relief work requests, and anti-establishment stories/ posts/ DM chats criticizing the government over mishandling of the pandemic and related to the central vista project that is being shared by users.

Over the past few days, users have reported that their stories, in which they share graphic images of hospitals/ cremation grounds/ central vista work; satirical/ comical posts mocking the government; cartoons of Ministers; etc. are getting auto-deleted.

Usually, the story is auto removed only when the post that is shared on the story is deleted by the page/ user or pulled down by IG for violation of community guidelines, but in this case, while the original post was not removed, the story was.

There are also instances where folks who are putting up stories for fundraisers and are amplifying relief requests are being pulled down.

Interestingly:

  1. It is not uniform, i.e. not all accounts that are amplifying relief requests are facing this (or, perhaps are not reporting/ realizing).
  2. The users are not getting any warning/ notice/ intimation that their story/ post has been pulled down. (I can at least confirm this for the people I know.)
  3. Both - public and non-public accounts are facing this, so mass reporting can be ruled out.

Also, this is different from being shadow-banned.

There is at least one instance of censorship of queer content (where the user had shared how they were being bullied and harassed.

But as clearly visible in this case, the user was intimated about the pull-down.

Needless to say, this type of pro-active censorship is detrimental to the digital rights of users. Not only stories and posts, but also direct messages of users are being erased. This level of censorship was previously unheard of in India (?) and this can prove to be a very bad precedent.

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Hi @Gyan_Tripathi, thank you for flagging this. Instagram provided some clarification today. On May 6, an automated system launched from IG’s end to detect whether reshared media in a story is still available if the original post has been deleted by the user from their grid. This is actually a bug I’ve faced myself - sometimes when I post a “grid post” on IG and reshare it as a story, the process of deleting the story after deletion of the grid post becomes difficult. Unfortunately, the new deployment from IG’s end ended up impacting all posts containing reshares and treating them as missing - and it took a while for IG to address this because the deployment itself was automated. This is why a large chunk of the missing stories were those that were reshared from grid posts.

However, there are still some questions I’m mulling over, for example:

  1. Many Indian users have pointed out that the missing content was specifically political in nature or COVID-19 related. Mosseri has clarified that this is NOT a hashtag moderation issue and that it impacted content of all nature uniformly, so why is there a dissonance in these anecdotes from users?
  2. People also reported disappearing DMs. Can an automated deployment specifically focused on grid-to-story reshares affect people’s private chats?
  3. IG mention Colombia, US, Canada, and Jerusalem in their post but not the serious impact of this bug on COVID-19 relief efforts in India - it’s a little bit puzzling.
  4. IG says that the issue has been fixed content has been restored. While that’s a good sign, I hope to come across more updates from users themselves stating that their content has indeed been restored across the board - considering it included leads for critical medical resources. It would also be helpful to note the measures IG/FB have taken to ensure such a thing doesn’t occur again in a critical time of resource-sharing.

If anyone has answers, it would be helpful!

Here are some updates on the situation:

  1. May 7, 12:12am IST: Instagram comms stated that it was a global technical issue.

Screenshot - 2021-05-08T121017.769

  1. May 7, 7:27am IST: Instagram communicated that the issue had been fixed.

Screenshot - 2021-05-08T121719.563

  1. May 8, 1:54am IST: Adam Mosseri acknowledged the issue. Again, he said that it was a bug that affected people’s stories, where re-shared posts, archives, and highlights were disappearing. He clarified that it was NOT because of hashtag moderation, and that it was a global issue.

  1. Instagram’s clarification today.

Would love to know your thoughts and experiences around this.

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Although all of the IG stories in my own COVID-19 highlight have been restored now, I am bothered and confused by two things:

  1. The reshared post stories deleted from my IG - all of them had the COVID info advisory/disclaimer in them which IG automatically flags when we share a COVID related post/story.
  2. But the political nature of it remains unclear. My CAA/NRC and other highlights didn’t get impacted by this at all, even though they had a lot of reshared posts as stories. So, what is the metric behind this?
    It is interesting because the COVID-related reliefs in India have been acknowledged on a global scale and IG, in its statement, does not mention this issue specifically, even though it has more adverse and panic-raising impacts in India than other countries in normalcy right now.

Waiting on experts and user to shed more light on this.

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